PSS Spring '11

Mission: Restore


Fathers and sons partner to help burn victims in India

by Melissa Sue Sorrells Galley '05

At a tiny hospital in Dehradun, India, partnerships cross boundaries, languages, generations and even families. At these crossroads, two father/son duos came together this past spring to perform therapeutic procedures on those harmed by burns and burnscarring.

Student Trustee-Elect Kees Nordin '13 and surgeon step-father Dr. Vincent R. DiGregorio '64, P'13 joined Dr. Kush Aeron and his father Dr. Yogi Aeron, who run Dehradun's Disha Hospital, along with a team of volunteers and surgeons from Mission: Restore, Long Island Plastic Surgical Group's non-profit foundation.

"The procedures performed at Disha were very sophisticated, but essentially practical," explains Nordin, a political science and English double major. "For example, they performed corrective surgery on a girl whose ankle had been fused to her hamstring three years ago. In time, she will be able to walk again."


"Burns are a significant problem in developing nations. More people die from burns in India than from malaria and AIDS combined," says DiGregorio, Chief of Plastic Surgery at Winthrop University Hospital and Senior Surgeon at Long Island Plastic Surgical Group, which coordinated the trip. He explained that many homes in India are equipped with uncontained fire pits, and accidents are common.

"There's very little acute burn care available, so burn victims either die from their injuries or live with scaring and scar-related deformities and disabilities," he says. "I've been working with burn patients for more than 30 years, but I've never seen the extent and number of burns that I saw on the patients in India."


"I was able to wear scrubs and hand the surgeons scalpels," says Nordin, who was also accompanied by his mother, public relations consultant Jennifer Ruys P'13. "It was an unbelievable experience. That would never happen in an American hospital, but in India, every able body is needed to help. Many recovering patients help out as nurses in the hospital, too."

In total, the team was able to treat more than 30 patients, offer insight into some of the hospital's most difficult cases and teach both Drs. Aeron new techniques. "Dr. Yogi Aeron is a highly skilled surgeon with many years of valuable experience but lacks the extensive formal training received by American surgeons," says DiGregorio. "My colleagues and I run a teaching practice, and we keep up with the latest developments in corrective surgery. We have a lot to offer the doctors."

Despite long days, the team was unable to help all of the patients waiting for help at the hospital in Dehradun. Each day, more than 60 patients lined up outside for treatment. "One man told us that he has been coming to the hospital every day for three years," says Nordin. "There's just not enough space in the hospital to treat all of the patients that need help."

Rather than in a dedicated medical building, Disha Hospital is based in a refurbished residence that Dr. Yogi rents. One of the operating rooms used to be a kitchen, the other a living room. The recovery wing is actually two small, windowless rooms in the attic.

Drs. Yogi and Kush have a vision of a fullservice hospital that will allow them to operate on more patients and more fully support patient rehabilitation, and they've begun construction on the new building. They are currently in the process of raising funds to build a housing unit where their patients' families can stay during surgery and rehabilitation.

"Many families travel hundreds of miles to get to Disha Hospital. Burn repair surgeries aren't like appendectomies," says DiGregorio. "They take place over a long period of time, so the families need a place to stay while the patient goes through the long, painful recovery process."

The medical team was able to visit the construction site and was inspired by Dr. Yogi's vision. "Dr. Yogi is the most idealistic, energetic and ambitious person I've ever met," says Nordin. "His energy radiates from him, and I know that his goals are totally feasible."

DiGregorio hopes to continue the relationship with Drs. Yogi and Kush. "It was never my intention to parachute in, operate on a couple of patients and leave. Through Mission: Restore, I want to establish and sustain relationships with doctors like Yogi and Kush in several countries," he says.

Nordin also hopes to return and continue his work with the hospital. "There's so much to be done there, from organizing to fundraising," he says. "They'll need to set up a sustainable endowment that will continue to fund supplies and operating costs once the hospital compound is complete. I'd like to bring my skills to help with fundraising and organization there."

"This trip was heartbreaking and wonderful," says DiGregorio. "My family and I got a lot more out of the trip than we gave. It was a life altering event for me, for Kees and for all of us on the trip."

"I'd been thinking about joining the Peace Corps before this experience, but now I am even more sure," says Nordin. "I had such a profound experience in just a week. Imagine what I might learn in two years."

For more information about Mission: Restore and Dr. Yogi Aeron's hospital, call (855) 777-1350 or visit


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